West Bank annexation is imminent. Israel digs a grave for the two-state solution. Throw-away headlines and editorial board op-eds aim to convince readers that the two-state solution is dead. But these hot takes are wrong. Recent developments in Israel have certainly emboldened detractors of partition, but the only way to judge the viability a negotiated Israeli-Palestinian divorce is by assessing the facts on the ground.
Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, the Likud Central Committee endorsement of West Bank annexation, and a Knesset law making it harder to divide Jerusalem in a peace agreement carry significant symbolic and even psychological weight. However, in terms of practical effects , all of the above examples are largely political theater.
While the Jerusalem bill may send a negative message to the international community vis-a-vis Israel’s intentions, in practice it would have a negligible impact if Israel genuinely sought a compromise on Jerusalem. This is because the bill can be amended by a simple 61-59 majority. Should a meaningful peace process arise and a different coalition be elected, reversing this legislation would be a straightforward mission.
On the Likud annexationist agenda: Israel’s ruling party never supported a two-state solution to begin with, so the significance of the recent Central Committee vote is exaggerated. Moreover, such an internal party decision has no force under the law. Notably, Prime Minister Netanyahu – who has refrained from expressing any support for annexation – was absent from the vote.
President Trump’s Jerusalem announcement doesn’t inherently change anything in the day-to-day lives between Israeli and Palestinians but it does make it extremely unlikely that the administration will broker Israeli-Palestinian peace. This may seem like bad news, but did anyone honestly believe Trump was going to bring about the “ultimate deal” to begin with?
At face value, those who claim a two-state solution is dead have a strong argument. Over half a million Israelis live in West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Dozens of settlements deep in the West Bank make a contiguous Palestinian state in the current conditions near impossible and the country’s ruling party supports annexing parts of the West Bank – or so the line of reasoning goes.
But when you look deeper, you’ll find that over 80 percent of the settlers live in the settlement blocs – areas to be annexed by Israel in an agreement in the context of land swaps with the Palestinians – and it was Netanyahu’s immediate predecessor, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who made the most far reaching peace offer in Israel’s history.
If Netanyahu were out to kill the the two-state solution, it would have been dead long ago. He remains committed to walking the line between two states and annexation, and, for the sake of his self-interested political survival, there is no reason for him to do otherwise. Netanyahu will not bring about two states but he will not bring about a bi-national state either.
The majority of Israelis do not support annexation of the West Bank, nor do they support a one-state solution. If after Netanyahu (yes, that time will come), a Likud government wins an election running on a platform of West Bank annexation, the two-state solution may really be on life support.
Take all the headlines in the past few weeks with a grain of salt. The two-state solution remains the most viable the solution to this conflict and Netanyahu won’t be the one to kill it. To be sure, there are reasons for proponents of two states to be concerned – but until there are real changes on the ground, it is premature to be as despondent as the latest slew of op-eds are.